Scientists from National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and Princeton University has published a “cosmic census” of a large swath of the night sky containing roughly 100 million stars and galaxies, including some of the most distant objects in the universe.
These high-quality images allow an unprecedented view into the nature and evolution of galaxies and dark matter.
The images and accompanying data were collected using a digital optical-imaging camera on the Subaru Telescope, located at the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii.
The camera, known as Hyper Suprime-Cam, is mounted directly in the optical path, at the “prime focus,” of the Subaru Telescope. A single image from the camera captures an amount of sky equal to the area of about nine full moons.
The project, known as the Hyper Suprime-Cam Subaru Strategic Program, is led by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) in collaboration with the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe in Japan, the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics in Taiwan, and Princeton University.
The release includes data from the first one-and-a-half years of the project, consisting of 61.5 nights of observations beginning in 2014. The project will take 300 nights over five to six years.
The data will allow researchers to look for previously undiscovered galaxies and to search for dark matter, which is matter that neither emits nor absorbs light but which can be detected via its effects on gravity.
A 2015 study using Hyper Suprime-Cam sur-veyed 2.3 square degrees of sky and found gravitational signatures of nine clumps of dark matter, each weighing as much as a galaxy cluster.
The current data release covers about 50 times more sky than was used in that study, showing the potential of these data to reveal the statistical properties of dark matter.
The survey consists of three layers: a Wide survey that will eventually cover an area equal to 7000 full moons, or 1400 square degrees; a Deep survey that will look farther into the universe and encompass 26 square degrees; and an UltraDeep survey that will cover 3.5 square degrees and penetrate deep into space, allowing observations of some of the most distant galaxies in the universe.
The surveys use optical and near infrared wavelengths in five broad wavelength bands (green, red, infrared, z, and y) and four narrow-band filters. In the multi-band images, the images are extremely sharp, with star images only 0.6 to 0.8 arcseconds across. (One arcsecond equals 3600th part of a degree.)